Take Your Answering Service to the Next Level
Most answering services want to grow their business. The risk of not growing is shrinking. And a shrinking business is one that’s hard to sustain.
Though a few answering service owners may have a strategic goal to reduce the size of their business to a certain level, this isn’t common. Only consider scaling down after making a careful analysis of business objectives and long-term goals. A third category is answering services that want to maintain their current size. But this is difficult to achieve, and the all-too-common risk is shrinking the answering service instead of maintaining it.
This is why the most common answering service objective is to grow. Yes, growth can be hard to achieve and challenging to manage. Yet when done properly, the rewards are significant. With greater size comes a greater economy of scale. This results in increased efficiency and higher profit potential. And isn’t making money why you’re in business?
Many answering services can achieve a slow, methodical growth year after year. But what if you want to grow at a faster clip? What if you want to take your answering service to the next level? Though some answering service owners can do this, most need the help of outside providers to achieve these loftier goals.
Arriving at the Perfect Storm
Benjamin Cartier worked his way through college answering phone calls for the local answering service. By the time he graduated with his BA, he was a shift supervisor and training coordinator. He enjoyed the industry and liked the company, so he stayed on after graduation. In short order he worked his way up to assistant operations manager and then became the operations manager. A few years later he earned a promotion to general manager and later vice president of operations. At that point he had the opportunity to become a part owner, and ten years later he bought out the founder who wanted to retire.
Benjamin continued to grow the answering service for another decade, but then he hit a perfect storm of roadblocks. First, he had maxed out his facility and had no way to expand at that location. Second, his aging answering service platform lacked many of the new services his customers wanted, and it was becoming hard to maintain. Last, he struggled to grow his business organically through sales and marketing—at least at the pace he wanted.
To take his answering service to the next level, in fact to even grow it at all, he needed to simultaneously resolve three problems: find a bigger facility, install new equipment, and figure out how to add new accounts two or three times faster. It was a catch twenty-two, with each element depending on another one for success.
Avoid a False Start
To address his cramped facility, Benjamin had tried to open a second location, but he struggled to manage it. In fact, this new location hurt his business, with cost overruns and severe customer service issues. He had to shut it down. Next, he tried remote agent stations, which allowed staff to work at home. This, he reasoned, would free up space in his office as proven employees would work from home, allowing him to add more staff to work in his office. However, his aging answering service platform wasn’t up to the challenge of reliably handling a remote workforce. He had to abandon that goal as well.
Hire a Full-Service Answering Service Consultancy
Only after he had given up, did Benjamin consider seeking outside help. He looked at several options and after an extensive analysis and vetting process, he enlisted the services of a full-service answering service consulting firm.
The consultants began with a thorough evaluation of his existing TAS (telephone answering service). Though they confirmed some problems Benjamin already knew he had, they also identified several opportunities he didn’t know existed. They proposed a multi-pronged approach to help Benjamin’s answering service address his three critical issues and successfully move his business to the next level.
Optimize Existing Client Base
The consultants found many things to celebrate with the answering service. They also identified that about one third of the clients were underperforming, that is, they were unprofitable. Using a thorough per-account analysis, the consultants guided Benjamin in a series of methodical rate increases to bring each client to a profitable level. To control this process, they wisely spread these increases over several months.
In addition to strategic rate increases, the consultants also identified three services to sell to existing clients. One was a new service and the other two were existing features that were under promoted. Fortunately, Benjamin’s aging equipment could handle all three. As a result, rolling out these new money-making services didn’t require making any equipment investments. This provided an immediate boost in revenue, which provided reoccurring charges that continued month after month.
Add New Technology
As the consultants worked in optimizing the existing client base, they also went about finding a technology solution that would give Benjamin state-of-the-art capabilities without him spending upwards of half a million dollars to buy a new system. This required Benjamin to make a psychological adjustment to his thinking. Instead of buying a system that he would need to install and maintain in his own already-crowded facility, he would use a hosting solution provider (also called software as a service—SaaS).
With this solution, he wouldn’t need to make a capital expenditure, but instead he would make a monthly payment based on actual usage and need. This pay-as-you-go solution was the ideal way for Benjamin to get the technology he needed without financing a huge system purchase.
In addition, the hosted solution would allow him to quickly scale as needed as his answering service grew. As a bonus, it also allowed for reliable off premise operator stations, such as in a work-at-home solution or a secondary site. Once the hosted equipment was in place and his old on-premise equipment removed, Benjamin would free up space in his overcrowded facility.
Establish Processes and Procedures
The main reason Benjamin struggled when he had off-premise staff working from home or at a secondary location was that his answering service lacked the proper framework in which to manage them. As a single-site operation, with Benjamin their most every day, managing the business was never a challenge.
However, Benjamin’s management-by-walking-around approach didn’t scale for a multi-location solution. By establishing sound business procedures, the consultants established a foundation for the successful management of a distributed workforce.
Aside from the operational aspect of his answering service, this lack of having documented procedures also hampered his sales and marketing efforts. Simply put, the way he was doing things didn’t scale and wasn’t sustainable.
To hit his desired growth rate required an overhaul of his sales and marketing processes. Key to this were procedures that were easy to replicate and scale as needed. These things took a few months to work through, but once accomplished and fine-tuned, the foundation existed to grow the business from both a staffing and a sales perspective.
Manage a Distributed Workforce
With new technology and a documented operation’s manual in place, staff could begin working from remote locations. Ten percent of Benjamin’s senior operators jumped at the chance to work from home. They would save on commute time, traveling costs, and workplace attire. Also, they’d have more scheduling flexibility and could pick up open shifts, short shifts, and even split shifts.
The consultants also identified a nearby labor market that was just outside of a reasonable driving distance from Benjamin’s office. To tap into this labor market, Benjamin located cost-effective office space there and set up a satellite operation that functioned as one with the main office. And because they had a management process documented and in place, overseeing this remote location became suddenly manageable.
By having some employees work from home and others work in a satellite location, this freed up workspace in the main office. Benjamin can now easily add more employees there without becoming overcrowded.
Implement a Sales and Marketing Strategy
At this point, the consultants had done the necessary preparation to allow for more aggressive sales and marketing. The equipment issue was resolved, the space issue was no longer an issue, and new revenues were pouring in from existing clients. This provided both the resources and capabilities to grow the business through sales and marketing.
The consultants recommended Benjamin keep his existing sales and marketing staff in place, doing what they had always been doing. The consultants would work with them to help them do their job better. But this wasn’t where most of the growth would come from. Instead the consultants set their own sales and marketing team into action to supplement the work of Benjamin’s staff.
The consultants identified three market niches to pursue and developed the profile of an ideal client. Using this information, they set about with an internet marketing campaign to generate leads for the consultant’s sales professionals to follow up and close. Then they would make a handoff to Benjamin’s staff to onboard the new accounts.
Their process was so fine-tuned that Benjamin could simply tell the consultants how many new accounts he wanted them to add per month. They would work towards hitting this goal. Though the actual numbers would vary from month-to-month, the average monthly sales numbers matched Benjamin’s requested growth rate. Between his own staff and the consultants, he was now adding four times more accounts each month than ever before.
Enjoy the Results
Two years into the process, the consultants had helped Benjamin increase the size of his answering service 50 percent and double its profitability. He now had two locations and several work-at-home employees, a state-of-the-art answering service platform, and a sustainable growth rate that he was proud of.
Now Benjamin is ready to take his business to an even higher level. He wants to do this by making a strategic acquisition. His consultants deem he and his business are ready to handle an acquisition, and they can assist him with that, too.
If you want to grow your answering service, you can do it on your own or do it faster with the help of a proven, professional call center consultancy. Let Call Center Sales Pro help you grow your answering service into the business you’ve always dreamed of. Get in touch with them today, and make for a better tomorrow.